TechArb Teams Help Mentor the Next Generation of Entrepreneurs

by Jeff Henebury

Florence Noel of Dear Black Women hearing her mentee’s elevator pitch

As an accelerator, one of TechArb’s primary roles is providing our teams with phenomenal mentorship. TechArb and University of Michigan staff, entrepreneurs, investors, and alumni from the community all serve as mentors to help our teams learn and succeed in the start-up world.

This summer, TechArb teams get to experience the other side of the mentor relationship, too — by serving as mentors for the Summer Discovery: Michigan Business and Entrepreneurship Institute. The camp provides an intensive entrepreneurial learning experience for high school students and is powered by the nonprofit Network for Teaching Entrepreneurship.

Director Ryan Gourley welcoming Summer Discovery campers to TechArb

“At TechArb, we have this mantra that ‘it takes a village to launch a venture,’” says Ryan Gourley, TechArb Director. “As our Fellows are learning firsthand just how critical mentorship is to the success of their own ventures, partnering with the Summer Discovery program gives them the opportunity to pay it forward to the next generation. These young entrepreneurs, in turn, will pay it forward to the customers and communities they serve in the not-too-distant future.”

Parisa Soraya of Find Your Ditto discusses the benefits of rapid prototyping with her mentees

Students started the session by learning what TechArb is and what the accelerator offers — dedicated workspace, material support, expert mentors, tailored programming, and a supportive community. After that, they experienced their first TechArb-style stand-up meeting; a fast-paced conference where teams share a recent success, their next big priority, and a challenge they’re facing and would like other teams’ input on. The high school entrepreneurs had some impressive business ideas. One team was pursuing customizable ice cream delivery to your home while another chose to design bathing suits with waterproof pockets for electronics. Pooling knowledge through the conference brought quick results — a team that needed logo help was pointed in the direction of several leads.

Kenny Fennell and Claire Koo of Caravan help mentees refine their business model

Next, the camp teams broke out with their individual TechArb mentors. The ice cream entrepreneurs partnered with TechArb alums Eric Katz and Maya Faulstich-Hon from Kulisha, who work with food and beverage companies to provide an innovative waste treatment solution. Kulisha stressed the importance of a well-developed value proposition; what unique value would the campers’ company provide to consumers? A team of campers developing a healthy eating app met with Parisa Soraya from Find Your Ditto, which mobilizes in-person peer-to-peer support for individuals living with chronic illness. Parisa stressed the need to test your ideas as much as possible before spending the time and money on developing a platform; low-tech workarounds can often show what’s working and what’s not, leaving you room to pivot down the line.

NFTE student delivering the pitch

When campers convened at the end of the day, enthusiasm for their startups felt noticeably higher. Several had transformed their fledgling business models completely. TechArb teams also got a glimpse of their progress; still much to learn from their own mentors, but already able to give back and advise the next generation of entrepreneurs, too.

The NFTE cohort